That evening, a feast was set to welcome Lord Redmantyl and his sons to Pendaunzel. By proper custom, there should have been a banquet upon their arrival, but there was no time to prepare a great feast so quickly. The Palace had been in an uproar over the crisis in Naufarre and, these days, dinner in the banquet hall was a special occasion. Dafythe frequently dined alone in his apartments and the court only gathered together when they greeted important guests.
Tonight, the court bard Delphyn sang the ballad of Prince Denys for the court’s amusement:
Of the fall of Fair Denys, a brave prince in sooth.
As Saint Parsyfal of old, a most virtuous knight,
He came to Our Lord’s arms yet a youth.
The sons of Good Robert were bold in those days,
Fit for battle and eager to face their foe.
On the sands of Madehef, they cast down all they met.
Down the mountains of Atlas blood flowed.
The firstborn Fair Denys, fleur-de-lys on his shield,
He was ever victorious, a most valiant knight.
The sword Dragonsfang he bore in his hands.
No Spaniard could withstand his might.
Prince Eduarde, the second, red lion of Skots,
Fierce, loyal he guarded his brave brother’s side.
The youngest, Prince Margad, no more than a boy.
Squire to his elders he did ride.
Denys the Fair. Denys the Brave. Denys Spaniardslayer. Denys Charmgifted. Though the Emperor Redlyon’s elder brother had died more than a century ago, his brief, sensational career was recalled vividly. The image of the blonde and handsome, white-robed Norman Prince was well-known and beloved throughout the Empire. Countless ballads praised Denys’s valor and commemorated his astonishing victories in North Africa and in the Northlander marches.
It was sometimes said that Denys had a talisman that gave him surpassing strength. Many songs featured this charm, though none were accurate as to its shape or nature. In one tale, it might be a holy amulet containing fragments of a saint’s bones; in another, it was a silver ring, a magician’s or a lover’s gift. The most popular talisman, however, was the sword Dragonsfang, in spite of the fact that Denys had died with this sword in his hands.
The ballad of Prince Denys was a favorite, but tonight the courtiers whispered as Delphyn sang. There was only one topic of conversation. The question passed over the table again and again—”Will there be a war?” “Do you think we’ll go to war?” —sometimes with worry, sometimes with eagerness. The answer was long and involved, or short and comforting: “I hope not”; “Don’t worry for it, my dear. My Lord Dafythe’s kept us peaceable for years. I’ll wager he see us through this crisis as well”; “I don’t see a way out of it. Juan won’t want to give over. His Spaniard’s pride, you know”; “Are we ready to go to war over this? Naufarre’s so far away and so small a part of the kingdom”; “Yes, but it is our land. We have our Norman pride as well.”
Dafythe, in his seat at the head of the table, explained the situation to the Lady Laurel at his left and Lady Roodebroke at his right. Ambris spoke with Layn Pennykoke’s daughter Ariane, recently returned from her studies at Paris. Lady Peaque, Lord Tuxsetau, Lord Roodebroke, and other members of the Council likewise explained recent events to their dinner companions. Lord Redmantyl, the honored guest, was in pleasant conversation with Martleanne. Dafythe’s secretary gave her cautious opinion of the crisis, but the wizard’s replies suggested that he had other things on his mind. Redmantyl had a reputation among the ladies of the court and the attractive yet reticent young woman was flustered by his attentions. Little Andemyon, seated on Martleanne’s other side, listened with incomplete comprehension. Redmantyl’s elder son Orlan, obviously self-conscious in his unfashionably long tunic, studied the short hemlines, the lace-trimmed shirts, the slashed sleeves, the braided and ribbon-bound plaits of the young nobles around him with envy, and he did not respond to the eager flirtations of the damosel at his right. Mara, at Orlan’s left, was silent.
Spanish foes in a rage at the Madehef assault.
Vengeance, they cried, for the Norman invasion.
Norman blood at the marches they sought.
Dear Cousin, Duke Julia wrote to Robert the Good King:
Succor, I pray thee. Send aid for our plight.
And so to the Northlands the brave princes did come.
Layn Diane did greet them, Gossunge’s knight.
All Pendaunzel rejoiced with gay laughter and music.
In the feast-hall, Prince Eduarde paid Diane his court.
Their wooing, `tis said, was war counsel and love-talk
Diane pledged her horses with her heart.
The next stanzas were usually Mara’s favorite. From childhood, she had thrilled to tales of her grandmother’s exploits. Diane, like herself, had been a Shieldmaid as well as a master horsewoman. Niece and heir to the old Duke Julia, she had received command of the Duke’s cavalry upon her knighting and it was said that Diane’s riders were skilled as she was. All were practiced in amazing stunts. They stood balanced upon their saddles. They swung down with one hand upon the pommel and one foot in the stirrup to strike fallen foes. Such expert tumblers on horseback were rarely seen even in carnivals these days. But tonight, Mara had no heart to hear of another Shieldmaid’s valor.
The Prince was mortified by her humiliation in the Council. She hadn’t expected to encounter so much resistance. She knew herself to be right. Why could she not make the Council see the solution as clearly as she did? She half-listened to the remarks of those seated near her. Her heart thumped impatiently. Discussions, endless discussions! Should they? Ought they? A Mayor’s Council? A Council of Nobles? A meeting with the Spanish Ambassador? An emissary to Naufarre. A message to Spain. So much talk! When would they act?
From Maudsland, from Princeland, in terror they flew.
In the heights of the Redhills they made fast their stronghold.
And there they waited for battle anew.
Ojos des Mantegnas, the Eyes of the Mountains,
The highest of passes the great fortress did crown.
A most tempting prize, Spain was loth to lose it.
Yet the Normans sought it for their own.
Three years passed at this sport, the princes triumphant.
The threat of the Spaniard was expelled from our land.
At the foot of the Redhills raised the bastion of Denys;
From plain and from peak, these great wards did stand.
The prince heard the familiar words with fresh agony. The Shieldwall lay between Ojos des Mantegnas—Spainfort, the Normans called it these days—and Dennefort. Delphyn sang of the very lands Mara ached to see. This was unbearable! Diane had led her riders to the borders of the Redlands. Eduarde had conquered them. Denys had died there. Would she would never lead troops to the Shieldwall herself?
The young Duke chose her consort at the dawn of her reign.
As Diane and Eduarde were bonded in handfast,
The Eyes of the Mountains was taken by Spain.
What Prince thinks of love when such danger arises?
They rode for the marches, the young husband and bride,
Brave Denys and Margad, to join in the battle,
And another, a maid, at their side.
The fair Khrystophania, she was Denys’s beloved,
A warrior-maid of famed talents and grace.
Diane’s lieutenant, yet she rode with the Bright Prince
She now rode in Eduarde’s place.
She heard her father’s voice: “It is a delicate situation, My Ladies. We don’t know what Juan is up to with this intended marriage.”
“Surely we can’t think him innocently in love with this Infanta,” Laurel said.
“To understand this problem, we must understand Juan. He is himself a product of the Treaty of Naufarre—the one child of both the Norman and Spanish houses. Naufarre is the one land he may claim by virtue of either parent. If it is Norman, he is its Prince. If it returns to Spain, he remains so. Only through an act of treason can it be taken from him. What does he gain by his treachery?”
“Then why does he do it?” asked Lady Roodebroke. “Does he hope for a reunion with Spain?”
“Perhaps,” Dafythe answered. “Juan has been brought up a Spaniard, but his mother has had little communication with her family these fifty years. I don’t believe she’s ever forgiven them for her marriage to my father, but for that same reason she has no fondness for Normans either. You know, of course, that my father was so old as I am now at the time of his last marriage, and his bride no older than you, my dear Laurel.”
“`Tisn’t a fair comparison,” Laurel replied playfully. “I’d wed you today if I weren’t already married to that lout.” She smiled across the table at her husband. “But you’re nothing like the Redlyon, Father Dafythe. Poor Marianne. What a time she must have had!”